On Beauty and Aesthetic Autonomy

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

The astounding popularity of the Vermeer exhibition in Washington a number of years ago, where people actually stood in line in the snow for hours, suggested that the passion for beauty in art is still very much alive, at least on the part of ordinary museumgoers. But who would have thought that it would continue to persist among art-savvy insiders? Then I remembered a show at the Sonnabend Gallery in the late ’80s, where Koons’s life-size, Italian-crafted, painted porcelain figures–Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Pink Panther, and all the rest–were first shown, and I remembered being told by a usually thoughtful collector, “Sure, they’re stupid, but look at the craftsmanship.” And then there was the time a preternaturally sensitive art-dealer friend of mine instructed me in the subtle difference between a Warhol Brillo Box where the silk-screen process was slightly off register as opposed to more perfectly aligned ones. He told me that an off-register box was more “beautiful”–that was the word he used–since such blurs and smudges showed the human touch, and it was more valuable to boot.

I couldn’t help thinking, at the time and now, of what Arthur Danto has said about pop and conceptual art (and I am paraphrasing him here): To look at a Brillo Box with the eye of a connoisseur is to comically misclassify its artistic interest, which is conceptual and not aesthetic.

More here.